No emoji beats face time (Part 2)

15 February 2018Myra Knoesen

In part one of the article we delved into social media’s effect on our ability to interact and communicate versus old traditional methods such as face to face communication. In part two of the article we will look at the shift in communication and what is missing.

A shift in communication

According to Paul Booth, PhD, an assistant professor of media and cinema studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago, “There has been a shift in the way we communicate; rather than face-to-face interaction, we tend to prefer mediated communication. We would rather e-mail than meet; we would rather text than talk on the phone.”

Awash in technology, anyone can hide behind the text, the e-mail, the Facebook post or the tweet, projecting any image they want and creating an illusion of their choosing. They can be whoever they want to be. And without the ability to receive nonverbal cues, their audiences are none the wiser, says Susan Tardanico, Forbes Contributor and author of ‘Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication?’

“This presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected - and potentially more disconnected - than ever before. Every relevant metric shows that we are interacting at breakneck speed and frequency through social media. But are we really communicating? With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth,” continued Tardanico.


“In the workplace, the use of electronic communication has overtaken face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication by a wide margin. This major shift has been driven by two major forces: the speed/geographic dispersion of business, and the lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication among a growing segment of our employee population: Gen Y and Millennials. Studies show that these generations – which will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020 – would prefer to use instant messaging or other social media than stop by an office and talk with someone,” said Tardanico.

When looking at the graph, published by Lori Lewis, Vice President of Social Media at Cumulus Media on LinkedIn, it is evident that social media is taking the world by storm and it is an effective tool in promoting businesses through networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to reach consumers.






There is no doubt that social media’s effect on our ability to interact and communicate is visible throughout all areas of society, so what does this mean for interpersonal communication?

Media’s effect on our ability to interact

“Glance around a restaurant and you’ll be hard-pressed to find people have their heads down using their cell phones to text, Tweet, or update their Facebook statuses—all while sharing a meal with others at their table,” continued Booth.

According to Booth, studies have shown that people are becoming more social and more interactive with others, but the style of that communication has changed so that we’re not meeting face-to-face as often as we used to.

“That said, our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is, we don’t feel as personally connected to the people at the other end of our communication as we do when we are face-to-face. So while we are communicating more, we may not necessarily be building relationships as strongly,” Booth says.

Three key issues are surfacing regarding the role social media now plays in people’s communication styles, Booth notes. First, when we communicate through social media, we tend to trust the people on the other end of the communication, so our messages tend to be more open. Second, our social connections are not strengthened as much through social media as they are face-to-face, so we don’t tend to deepen our relationships—they tend to exist in the status quo. Last, we tend to follow and interact with people who agree with our points of view, so we aren’t getting the same diversity of viewpoints as we’ve gotten in the past.

So what’s missing?

But when we communicate online, whether it's on Facebook or through email, or when we tweet or text, what's missing? What specific elements do we miss out on when we trade face-to-face communication for connecting through our computer or phone?

It may seem obvious to some, but we tend to forget about the importance of body language, voice inflection, and the simple act of looking someone in the eye during a conversation. 

Our facial expression, physical gestures, and the emotional tone in our voice alter the meaning of our words, which is why it is very difficult to express ourselves fully and authentically in an email or text-or even in front of a Skype screen. So what's missing are the feelings that inform the words.

How to reconnect words to feelings? Fewer texts, less Facebook, and more face time. Face to face communication remains the best and most complete way of getting our message across.

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